Not Courteney Cox
Just because she’d been burned alive and survived didn’t mean she looked like Courteney Cox. Just because she’d had her skin melt away and get replaced with little strips of flesh glued from other parts of her body like a child’s art project didn’t mean she looked like Golden Globe-winning actress Courteney Cox. And just because her mother, standing over her in the hospital, her own face pale and powdered, at least the parts of her mother’s face she could see through the hand held over it, had said, choking on the words, that her “little baby” now “looked like that actress, what’s her name? Courteney Cox!” didn’t mean she looked anything like Courteney Cox.
Maybe it wasn’t her mother. Maybe it was her father and maybe he said, “Monica, you look like Monica, you know, from Friends,” and then someone made the leap to Courteney Cox along the way.
She couldn’t remember. It was her face that had been burned, but her brain felt like it had been cooked alive.
Everyone in the room was trying to smile and reaching their hands toward her, but stopping short of touching her, just kind of gesturing with all their fingers extended in her general direction.
For a long time, she hadn’t looked like anybody, certainly not like Courtney Cox. She’d been wrapped up in gauze and bandages and hidden under sheets in a corner. At most she looked like a pile of Courtney Cox’s laundry.
“I’m almost jealous,” her sister said, accidentally stressing the almost more than was appropriate and then immediately repeating the phrase with the stress on I’m. “I bet you’ll have your own Matthew Perry soon. Imagine that. You looking like Courteney Cox and a new boyfriend looking like Matthew Perry.”
“Boyfriend? Probably fiancée,” her mother chimed in enthusiastically.
She didn’t want to have to tell them that Courteney Cox never dated Matthew Perry. She didn’t want to have to tell them that Courteney Cox just played a character named Monica who dated a character named Chandler that was played by Matthew Perry on the same TV show. They had it all mixed up.
She moved her head to the side, toward the mirror, and she felt her new skin crinkle. She stopped moving.
Had Courteney Cox ever had the skin burned off her face until all the Courteneyness and Coxness melted away? If so, did people stand around Courteney Cox and tell her that she looked like Winona Ryder or Jennifer Lawrence?
Everyone in the hospital room was silent and staring.
“It really is remarkable,” her father said, finally. “The science I mean. It’s like science fiction!”
“Like Star Wars,” her sister’s husband said.
“Courteney Cox wasn’t in Star Wars,” her sister said.
“I meant the hand. Luke’s hand. With all the cybernetics.”
Suddenly her sister snapped her fingers. “Geller!” she said. “You look just like Monica Geller.”
“Not Courteney Cox?” her mother said, concerned.
“Monica Geller was Courteney Cox,” her sister said, rolling her eyes.
“Oh, I get it,” her mother said, turning toward her and extending her fingers until the fingertips alighted on her shoulder, “you look just like Monica Geller and Courteney Cox.”
She made a face with her eyes and nose. She made a face because she didn’t want to talk. But what did this face look like? Was it the same face of annoyance she used to make before being burned alive? Or now, with her new skin, did the face impart an entirely different emotion? Did she look instead like Monica, played by Courteney Cox, had looked when she dropped a knife on Chandler, played by Matthew Perry, and severed his toe in season 5 episode 8?
“She’s smiling,” her mother whispered to her father, apparently unable to read the direction of her mouth.
She needed to just get it over with. She needed to see what kind of face she had, and what kind of faces she was even able to make anymore. Would any of her expressions ever work the same again? Would she have to become a new person with an entirely new set of facial movements?
All the faces around her were trying to smile. She began slowly to turn her head.
Lincoln Michel is the author of Upright Beasts, a collection of short stories from Coffee House Press. His fiction and criticism appear in The New York Times, Vice, Granta, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. He is the co-editor of Gigantic Worlds, and anthology of science flash fiction, and Tiny Crimes, an anthology of noir fiction forthcoming from Catapult. You can find him online at @thelincoln and lincolmichel.com
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